I believe that most landscape and outdoor photographers have at some point dreamed about purchasing an RV and just follow the road wherever it takes you but there’s far fewer who actually takes a chance to do it. After a couple of tough years including unexpected changes, Jessica Johnson decided that the best way to heal was by hitting the road and travel full time.
Landscape photography was an important part of this process and the images she’s captured on the road is nothing less than spectacular. While she’s still spending half the year traveling, Jessica’s now also pursuing a second passion that she discovered on the road: using creative arts as a healing tool for others.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Jessica, and thank you for being both an inspirational photographer and person.
Can you start by telling us who you are and how you got started with photography?
I am a part-time gypsy, full-time optimist, and nature photographer. My love story with photography started in a painting class, of all places. The class was painting from photographs and I felt uninspired to create a painting from someone else’s artwork so I set out to capture photos that would be true to my artistic vision. The plan was to then turn the photos into paintings but once I was out exploring with camera in hand, I fell in love with the process of creating photographs and telling a visual story one frame at a time.
You now travel 50% in your RV but until recently you did it full-time. Can you tell us a little about what made you travel full time in your RV and your experiences doing it?
I began traveling full-time after a season in my life that was full of loss and unexpected changes. In just a couple short years, I had lost my Dad to cancer and went through a devastating and unexpected divorce. I was left disillusioned and grief-stricken but inspired to heal my heart and live full of purpose and love. During this time, on a day when all the pieces of my carefully constructed life were seemingly falling away, I decided to travel full-time in the hope that my dear heart would reconstruct itself if I gave it what it has always craved: wild spaces, creative freedom, and a daily intention to nourish my spirit in any way that called to it. I found very quickly that devoting my energy and focus to the creative process is exactly what my spirit was yearning for. It wanted to start the day hiking to a beautiful sunrise location, dancing around my tripod (do this with care) while waiting for the light, it called for me to get so deeply focused on creating an image that everything else fell away. When I wasn’t focused on finding the best tacos or Thai food, I committed myself to the creative process: shooting, failing, expanding, learning. Following that creative path was, and still is, one of the most humbling and invigorating parts of my life.
How did photography impact your travels and the destinations you visited? Would it have been different if you weren’t doing photography?
With photography being my main focus while traveling, it impacted both when and where I went. It also influenced my decision to stay at certain places for an extended time. I found that I enjoy spending a good bit of time meditating on a landscape before attempting to capture it. I like to get to know it, learn what it feels like to be there, romance it a bit. It was a true luxury to have the freedom to really soak locations in; it felt like falling in love over and over.
If I were to travel without doing photography my itinerary would have been much different. Instead of chasing conditions, turning down offers to travel to friend-filled but less photogenic locations, and missing nearly every campground happy hour due to sunset timing I would have been able to build stronger connections with other (non-photographer) travelers, spend more time exploring the culture that urban areas provide and generally having a more balanced sleep schedule. I wouldn’t trade it though, it was exactly what it needed to be.
What was the biggest challenge with living full-time in your RV?
Living in an RV comes with a multitude of challenges. I mostly boondock (dry camp) so there are the practical concerns of rationing resources like power, water, tank capacity and internet access. While those areas require foresight and management, my biggest challenge was the lack of continuous community. A continuous community is one of the things in life that you take for granted until you no longer have it. It is going to your local yoga class where the instructor knows how much I look forward to savasana and hate chair pose, it is knowing that you have a good doctor to go to if you get hurt or sick, it’s knowing that you have a friend down the street that you are meeting for coffee on Saturday morning, and most importantly to me, it is the feeling you get when you live somewhere that calls you one of its own, when you are part of the flock. Luckily for me, there is a community of travelers that is full of wonderful, heartfelt people that made the road feel as close to a community as possible. I cherished these relationships and the connectedness that they offered. They are my people, my tribe, and yet I still struggled to find balance without a traditional continuous community to belong to.
What were your best experiences from this period?
The best experience I had while traveling was the privilege to witness people who have followed their hearts to live in a way that nourishes them and their families on their own terms. When you have lost some of the biggest pieces of your life it is easy for your world to start feeling small and void of new energy. Being out on the road, meeting locals and other travelers, opened my eyes to all the creative and inspiring ways that people have decided to take a departure from the norm and craft lives that fill their hearts and minds. It inspired me to expand when every fiber of my body was begging me to contract in fear.
What are your plans for the future?
While traveling it became very clear that through the losses I had experienced I was better equipped to walk alongside others who were also carrying broken hearts. I have a passion for holding sacred space for those who are suffering and am inspired to share what I have learned about using the creative process and our natural world as a powerful tool in healing ourselves and connecting with our spirit. I am currently working towards a degree in social work at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, after completing my education I would like to begin offering one-on-one therapy/coaching and collaborating with other healers and artists to offer retreats focused around processing grief and living powerfully in their lives.
You mentioned that you’ve also found a passion for healing and want to combine traditional therapy and photography. In what way will you use photography to heal/help others?
There are several ways in which photography or any creative pursuit can aid in healing. Committing to the creative process requires a person to look deeply at the way they move in and respond to the world. It asks that they examine the ways in which they respond to changing conditions, failures, exhaustion, and disappointment. Creative pursuits allow for people to express parts of themselves that may feel constricted or unwanted in other parts of their life. Releasing your work asks that you be full of courage and confidence. The path allows the artist to experience the joy of sharing a part of who they are and how they view the world. A creative life, over time, allows for the perceptive artist to witness the dynamic way of the world. Standing witness to the groundlessness of our existence allows for a release of things long past. It is all of these brilliant gifts and bittersweet lessons that I hope to share with people because learning about ourselves and the ever-changing characteristics of our reality allows for us to let go of things past and present that are holding us back.
What’s your goal with photography?
I view photography as more of a spiritual practice than a production of content so I don’t set specific goals. Instead, I surrender to the practice of showing up and working hard to stay present in the experience long enough to witness the magic that practicing the craft allows for.
If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
Given the Le Tour de France is ongoing, as an avid cycling fan, I would probably choose to go and shoot in the Dolomites for a bit and then pop over and watch a few stages of the Tour in the French Alps.